NEWARK, N.J. – Simon Gagne is finally healthy enough to play for the Los Angeles Kings.
With as well as the Western Conference champions have been playing, though, it’s tough for the former All-Star forward to get back into a loaded lineup.
Gagne has been medically cleared to return to the ice following a concussion that sidelined him on Dec. 26. It will likely take another injury or perhaps a loss to prompt coach Darryl Sutter to shake up his personnel and put Gagne into action.
Neither happened Wednesday night, as the Kings outlasted the New Jersey Devils 2-1 in overtime to take a 1-0 lead in the Stanley Cup finals.
“It’s going to take something for me to get in,” Gagne said before the game. “If we win four in a row, it might not happen. I am not going to wish anything bad.”
Either way, it’s become a storyline. And Sutter has quickly grown impatient with questions about the left wing’s status.
“I’m not answering that question again about Simon,” Sutter said before the victory. “Cleared for contact, cleared for practice, travelling with the team. So there won’t be any further update on that one because, quite honestly, the answer’s the same. I don’t know how to answer it, right? You tell the truth or don’t say nothing.”
Gagne played in the 2010 finals for the Philadelphia Flyers, who lost to Chicago in six games.
KOPITAR’S CLIMB: Anze Kopitar’s breakaway goal in overtime did more than give Los Angeles a leg up. The tally at 8:13 was Kopitar’s seventh of the playoffs and his 16th point in 15 games.
Kopitar is tied with Kings captain Dustin Brown for the team lead in both categories. The dynamic duo also has an NHL post-season-best rating of plus-14.
The Kings are a perfect 9-0 on the road in the post-season, a record for one year, and they have taken 11 straight playoff away victories, dating to last year. Both are NHL records. Los Angeles has scored first in five of the nine away games and has led or been tied after the first period in all but two of the contests.
Fifteen players have scored the 32 goals on the road, with seven Kings netting winners.
“Every time you get on the road you need a team effort,” Kopitar said. “It showed again. We had four lines going, six D. Jonathan (Quick) was great in net for us again. We’ve got to continue doing that.”
The Kings will get another chance Saturday night in New Jersey before the series shifts to Los Angeles for Games 3 and 4.
STEADY MARTY: Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur played in his 200th career post-season game. He just didn’t come away with the win.
Brodeur is the 20th player to reach the milestone, but only the second goalie. Brodeur’s childhood idol, Patrick Roy, holds the goaltending record with 247 playoff appearances.
“We’re fine,” Brodeur said after the Devils’ 2-1 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday night. “We didn’t play our best game. We competed with them. They’re a good hockey team. There’s no doubt there’s things we could do a little better to have more success.”
PLAYING LATE: Surprise, surprise. Another overtime session. In fact, that has become quite common in this year’s playoffs. Game 1 was the 24th game to go past regulation, the third-highest total for any single year.
Road teams have won 15 of the 24, including three by the Kings. The Devils are 4-2 in extra time.
NEW YEAR’S DAY: Back in 2011, when Boston and Vancouver squared off in the finals, Peter DeBoer was unemployed and hoping to get another chance. The call from Lou Lamoriello, New Jersey’s general manager, came shortly after, and one year later, DeBoer has led his new team to the finals.
DeBoer and the Devils had something negative in common: He failed to get the Florida Panthers to the playoffs in his three seasons as their coach, and the Devils missed the post-season in 2011 for the first time since 1996.
“Like most unemployed guys, you’re sitting at home wondering where you’re going to work next,” DeBoer said. “You’re thinking about your future, talking about selling your house.
“It seems humorous now, but when you go through something like that, you know … I have a rock-solid wife who I thought kept me in a good place through that time. It wasn’t that long ago.”
The Devils were a mediocre 12-12-1 through Dec. 3 before surging to a 36-16-5 finish that pushed them over 100 points. New Jersey then eliminated Florida, Philadelphia and the top-seeded Rangers.
Speaking of, DeBoer has little sympathy for those who were hoping for a Los Angeles-New York matchup.
“The glamour of New York?” DeBoer asked with a smile. “Tough luck.”
RED, WHITE AND BLUE ‘C’: For the first time, both teams in the finals have an American-born captain: Dustin Brown of the Kings, and New Jersey’s Zach Parise.
“It’s great for the game in the U.S.,” said Parise, a native of Minneapolis. “That says a lot for American hockey.”
And they already know each other quite well.
Both Brown and Parise are 27. They were teammates on the 2010 Olympic hockey squad that captured the silver medal at Vancouver, and played on the same team in the World Junior championship.
“(Playing) with him it’s a lot of fun, he’s a special player. Playing against him is not,” Brown said. “The one thing I say about Zach is that you’re not going to find a more skilled guy who competes harder. He has first-line skill and a fourth-line mentality and work ethic. He probably works harder than any high-end skill guy that I’ve seen.”
KING-SIZED TURNAROUND: As late as March 28, and with only six games left in the regular season, Los Angeles was on the outside of the playoff race. Under Sutter, though, the Kings finished 3-0-3 to earn the No. 8 seed and then began one of the most amazing post-season runs in NHL history.
Los Angeles, which began the season 15-14-4 before Sutter took over as coach on Dec. 21, reached the Stanley Cup finals for the second time and needed only 14 playoff games to get there. The Kings went 12-2 in the first three rounds to eliminate top-seeded Vancouver (5 games), No. 2 St. Louis (4 games) and No. 3 Phoenix (5 games).
“I don’t think we’re surprised,” forward Mike Richards said. “We worked hard to get to this point. Had a good team all year. We struggled I think early on with consistency, which put us in some holes throughout the regular season.
“Once we found that consistency, started scoring more goals, playing just with more confidence, I think we’ve done well in that situation.”
The Kings went 25-13-11 with Sutter behind the bench, and the 14-game trip to the finals ties the mark for fewest games to get there since all series went to the best-of-seven format in 1987. Los Angeles is the seventh team to accomplish the feat.
“We’ve overcome a lot of adversity already,” defenceman Drew Doughty said. “We took on the Western Conference first-place, second-place, third-place team. That’s no easy task. Maybe because we did make it happen so quick, only losing two games so far, it looks easy. But it wasn’t easy.
“We played our hearts out. Every single guy played for the other guy beside them. It was a tough task to overcome.”
The Edmonton Oilers won the Cup in 1987 and 1988 after 14-game runs to the championship round. Chicago (1992), Detroit (1995), Anaheim (2003) and Pittsburgh (2008) all came up short in the finals after surging through three rounds.
AP Sports Writer Tom Canavan contributed to this report.